Early September 2009, I read an interesting blog  about the use of the para-normal in African football.

The blog said “there has long been a history of using far more extraordinary means to gain a psychological advantage over an opponent, to make one team feel invincible and the other quite neurotic. Voodoo. Miracles. Juju. Fetishism”.

Indomitable Lions: Do they cast spells at each other

Indomitable Lions: Do they cast spells at each other

It was actually a  review of a new book on African football entitled “Feet of Chameleon” by a British writer called Ian Hawkey. But it still managed to enrage a number of Africans and non-Africans about the off-handish way in which westerners treated the game as played in Africa.

A poster, “badtoothbone” (apparently not African), tried hard to debunk the stereotypes:

…it seems to me it would be sensible not to overstate the importance of African football’s many idiosyncriasies.

After all, the game in Africa is not, and has never been, primarily about voodoo, magic, curses and spells. It’s about skill, strength, speed, endurance, creativity, courage, passion and joy, the same as everywhere else…

But  utterances by Cameroonians on football forums since the young defender Sébastien Bassong got injured playing for Cameroon and now for Tottenham have may cause one to think Africans prefer reveling instories about football and mysticism.

Cameroonians have taken it to another height with their attacks on Rigobert Song Bahanag on internet forums.

The Song v Bassong voodoo tale

On 5th September 2009, Cameroon played against Gabon in a Fifa World Cup 2010 qualifier in Libreville. Former skipper, Rigobert Song started on the bench. But early in the game  the player who had replaced him, Sébastien Bassong, got a knock and asked to be substituted. The coach sent-in Rigobert Song, who handled his task properly.

After the match, the Cameroonian football website (camfoot.com) was filled with people accusing Song of having used sorcery to cast a spell on the young Bassong to hurt himself – thus allowing Song to return to the fold.

The same type of comments hit the site following Sébastien Bassong’s unfortunate accident on Sunday 20 September (he hit his head on the turf and was concussed) while playing for his professional club, Tottenham Hotspur in England.

Here are a few comments with basic translation:

Eh !!!! Dis donc, père Song il faut laisser les enfants émerger. Akiéé !!! le truc que tu lui as fais à Libreville là ne suffisait pas ??

[Hey!!!! …Old Song, please allow the young to grow. Akiéé!!! Wasn’t the thing you did to him in Libreville enough??]

pardons demandez a rigobert song de laisser les enfants tranquille ohh !! il va tous les tuer s il continu comme ca ! weh rigo !! pourquoi pratiquer sur bassong a ce point ? tu veux tuer l enfant d autrui ?? en tout ca y a un dieu qui voit tout !! vivement qu il te stop dans tes actions !!

[Please, advise Rigobert Song to leave these children alone. If he continues like that, he will kill every one of them. Rigo why are you casting spells on Bassong? Do you want the death of someone’s child? Anyways, there is a God who sees all!! Hopefully he will put an end to your acts!!]

Someone told me it was a joke. If it is a joke, I say it’s of bad taste.

Who’s spreading stereotypes about Africa?

Apart from maintaining the stereotype that we Africans spend our time focussing on the para-normal instead of the rational in football (and all else), these reactions also confirm the archetypical  trend of accusations of witchcraft in our communities.

It is often about older persons wanting to “eat” younger ones. Old Song wants to eliminate young Bassong. Just like lonesome old men and women in the villages get burnt “for killing all their family members”.

The supernatural is part of human existence. In Africa, the spiritual and the physical are undisputed parts of our lives. Explaining reality through the metaphysical is our way of life. From football to politics, mysticism colours our worldview.

But if we dare to accuse anyone in public of dabbling in occult arts to harm another, we should have proof of our allegations. And I doubt if any of those posters master the rigours of divination.

Sapping the team-building efforts of management

Some may consider these comments as burlesque and eccentric but they could  destroy the spirit of fraternity within a football squad and particularly that of Cameroon which is only being rebuilt by a new coach.

Such comments saps morale among team members. How do those who say these things expect Sebastien Bassong (born in France and only just returned to play for the country of his parents) to react?

What about Rigobert Song? Even if he is made of steel, it isn’t easy to go about being accused of witchcraft on up and coming youngsters.

There are those who would argue that voicing such statements about Rigobert Song is freedom of expression. Fair point.

We are free to like or not to like Rigobert Song. It is our right to wish that he plays or does not play for our national team. But bringing his name and honour into disrepute without proof, is not particularly courteous.

I wonder how some of these fellows would feel if we were to tell their co-workers that they were wizards who are swallowing up their money via totems hidden in their toilets.

It wouldn’t be a laughing matter anymore, would it?